Friday, February 23, 2024

Girls basketball area watch list for 2023-24 season

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Here’s an early look at this year’s Kaayla Chones Award watch list, an award that goes to The News-Herald’s girls basketball player of the year. This list can (in alphabetical order) and will change throughout the season.

Mallory Chicone, Sr., Mentor: She averaged 9.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.0 assists a game last year. She’s a heady leader and will take on an even bigger role in this, her senior season with a Mentor team that has high aspirations.

Nisey Darden, Sr., Richmond Heights: She averaged 12 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.0 blocks last year for a Richmond Heights team that had a breakout season. Most of that young team is back, so Darden & Co. will again be a tough team to face this year.

Zoey Deligianis, Jr., Madison: She burst onto the scene as a sophomore when she averaged 14.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 2.6 assists per game. She’s a silky smooth player who along with Claire Wakim give the Blue Streaks a pair of high-end players and scorers.

Elizabeth Dunmire, So., VASJ: No one had a freshman season like Dunmire had last year when she averaged 21.0 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.9 steals, 2.6 assists and 2.1 blocks. She’s tall, athletic and score in many ways, including from the perimeter where she hit 37 3-pointers last year.

Maggie Furst, Sr., West Geauga: One of only a few News-Herald coverage area players who last year averaged a double-double with 12.2 points and 10.8 rebounds (to go with 2.1 blocks). She’s virtually automatic when she gets the ball in the paint, hitting 48% of her field goals last season.

Ava Gabriel, Jr., Wickliffe: It’ll be tough for her to top her sophomore season — but it’ll be fun to watch. All she did last year was average 22.7 points, 6.0 steals and 3.0 rebounds per game while setting the program’s record for scoring in a season.

Gilmour guards Katie Puletti and Nicci Finazzo: It’s hard to separate these two experienced guards who have a ton of starting experience under their belts. Finazzo is the quintessential playmaker after averaging 8.6 points, 5.0 assists and 2.6 steals as a junior, while Puletti averaged 10.3 points, 2.5 assists and 2.3 steals.

Helen Holley, Sr., Gilmour: The Michigan State recruit is a phenomenal athlete. The 6-foot-1 senior averaged 14.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 3.3 steals, 2.6 assists and 2.5 blocks per game last year. She can score in the post, on the drive and from the perimeter.

Savannah Laurenty, Sr., Riverside: The reigning Chones Award winner, she is coming off a junior season in which she averaged 17.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 3.4 assists per game. The Beavers took some heavy graduation losses, so Laurenty will get more attention from opposing teams this year, but she’s a multi-dimensional player.

Tatiana Mason, Fr., Brush: Is it unfair to heap pressure on a freshman guard? Maybe. But get one look at Mason’s all-around game and her ability to score, defend and take over a game, and you’ll see she’s not your typical ninth-grader.

Lilly Stukus, Jr., Chagrin Falls: Is there anything she can’t do? She’s been a go-to player since she stepped on the court her freshman year. Last year she averaged 16.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists to go with 50 3-pointers. This coming off a year when she ran in the state cross country meet in her first year in the sport.

Brooklynn Vickers, Sr., Brush: An offensive scoring machine with a lot of varsity experience, she is coming off a junior year in which she averaged 17.3 points, 4.4 steald and 3.0 assists to go with 55 3-pointers made. She’s got a young cast around her this year, so her role is productivity as well as leadership.

Claire Wakim, Sr., Madison: She had a breakout season as a junior when she averaged 14.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 3.2 steals per game. With the Blue Streaks now in the Chagrin Valley Conference, she very well could be in line for a league MVP consideration with her all-around game.


• Gilmour has huge goals this season with a veteran-laden team. First-year coach Kevin Byrne has gotten early rave reviews from his players, and the Lancers have gotten off to a 2-0 start. With 6-foot-1 leaper Helen Holley — a Michigan State recruit — leading the way, Gilmour could make a run toward the state tournament. Guard Nicci Finazzo and Katie Puletti have extensive starting experience, and forward Elaina Kline-Ruminski would be a standout on most any team. Gilmour’s two wins are over Laurel and Stow-Munroe Falls. Those are two high-quality wins and a sign of what team this can be.

• Look out for the Brush Arcs this year. Already off to a 3-0 start, the Arcs feature two returning leading scorers in Brooklynn Vickers (18.2 ppg) and Rihianna Williams (13.0). The addition of two very talented freshmen in Tatiana Mason and Chiniyra Isaacs-McDowell make the Arcs very athletic. Add in 6-6 Tayja Mims at center and the prediction is clear — Brush will be much better than the 11-12 team it was a year ago.

• Mentor is off to a 3-0 start. A big reason is its depth (with 12 girls retuning that have varsity experience) and health (with Maggie Hawley and Izzy Coode both back from injuries that kept them sidelined last year). The Greater Cleveland Conference is rugged, as usual, with Medina and Brunswick among the league leaders. But the Cardinals will be a force to deal with after going 10-13 last year.

• The North Rangers have solid post play in 5-10 forwards Kaitlin Dobida and Cami Welty. Guard play will be big for the Rangers. If the Rangers can take care of the ball and get some consistent outside shooting to take the pressure off the post play, Coach Paul Force’s team will contend for the WRC title.

• Heather Reho takes over the Madison program from former coach Tedd Wagner, who led the Blue Streaks to a resurgent season last year. The Blue Streaks will be one of the favorites in the new-look CVC Lake Division after leaving the Western Reserve Conference. Madison will get plenty of competition in the CVC Lake, especially from nextdoor neighbor rival Perry, but having a 1-2 punch with Zoey Deligianis and Claire Wakim give the Blue Streaks a strong chance every time they take to the court.

• Kenston graduated its entire starting five from a year ago. Morgan Cicek (6.4 ppg) is the highest returning scorer. Yet a handful of area coaches point to the Bombers as a prime contender in the WRC.

• Speaking of Kenston, the Bombers’ seniors have organized a fundraiser for the Cleveland Angels (a local foster care service) at the Bombers’ home game against Aurora on Dec. 11.

• Chagrin Falls has only one starter back, but she’s a good one in Lilly Stukus. The Tigers have strong guard play. Their division of the CVC should come down to them and Richmond Heights, which will be a high-paced transition type of game when they meet up.

• Mayfield has all five starters back from last year’s team that went 11-12. There’s not a lot of height, but being able to play fast and create turnovers with the patented defense Coach Cullen Harris employs will make the Wildcats dangerous in the very balanced WRC.

• Geneva has hired recent alum Emily Harriman as its new coach, replacing former coach Mike Hassett. Four starters return, including leading scorers Delaney Marrison and Brooke Richmond. Can the Eagles contend in the CVC Lake along with Madison and Perry? Absolutely.

• Cardinal is back in the girls basketball scene after not fielding a team last year because of low numbers. Coach Kim Domen’s team is full of freshmen and sophomores, but their youth bodes well for the future.


Coaches are asked to submit their box score information as soon as possible after their games. Please email box score information to Notebook items, story ideas, tidbits and milestones can be emailed to

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